There are countless angles to take in approaching the somewhat difficult task of teaching covenantal/presuppositional apologetics. What follows may be one of them.
Socrates famously asked, “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” The so-called Euthyphro Dilemma has haunted and warmed the halls of the academy ever since.
The difficulty with answering that the good is willed by God because it is good is that the standard of good in this view exists quite apart from and in superiority to God. God appeals to a notion of moral good above and beyond Himself. God is neither an ultimate nor necessary standard of morality.
The difficulty with answering that the good is good because it is willed by God is that the standard of good in this view exists arbitrarily and in possible contradiction to moral facts. What is morally good is arbitrary, because it is wholly dependent upon the will of God.
Typically Christian apologists respond to this philosophical problem by identifying it as a false dilemma and splitting its ‘horns.’ It is simply not correct to speak of the standard of good apart from God, or according to His arbitrary will, for God is the very standard of good in question, and His will is in accord with His nature. God has might, yes, but He is also the right. The traditional answer to the Euthyphro Dilemma goes on from there.
But I would like to suggest that we reject God as the very standard, essence, enforcer, or whatever ‘of good’ for the sake of argument. Let’s twist the dilemma just a tad and reapply it to the haughty unbeliever. Is the good willed by the individual because it is good, or is it good because it is willed by the individual?
If the good is willed by the individual because it is good, then good exists quite apart from and superior to the individual. But it is difficult to imagine what on earth (pun intended) this would look like. Even if there were some external, objective, universal standard of good that exists outside of the individual, it is apparently not immediately knowable, and I can think of no reason to live by it. What does it mean for such a standard to exist superior to the individual? The individual has nothing to do with what is considered good, and should in the end find such an alleged standard rather irrelevant. Submission to some such standard rids one of the freedom of autonomy so often cherished in unbelieving circles. Positing ‘society’ as the standard in question is precluded by the very nature of this horn of the dilemma, for society consists of a group of individuals, and in this side of the dilemma good exists apart from the individual. There are many other worries, but none that time and space permit me to write about here.
If the good is good because it is willed by the individual, then moral good is rather arbitrary. What is good just becomes relative to the individual. But then there are as many moral standards as there are people to hold them. Even if two people were to agree completely on all of their moral ‘standards,’ it would not follow that they agreed on anything more than a merely formal level, for the alleged standards, values, facts, whatever are such solely in virtue of each individual. Ann thinks murder is wrong ultimately because Ann thinks it is wrong, whereas Barb ultimately believes murder is wrong because Barb thinks it is wrong. There can be no true agreement upon moral facts. A spin off of this view might be moral subjectivism. Disliking rape is a bit like disliking vanilla icecream. Perhaps it just isn’t exciting enough. Or maybe it’s icky. Horrible suggestions, I know, but if you have ever spent much time around, say, New Atheists, you know that they suggest much worse than that.
Of course I’m not going to pretend that unbelievers have not attempted to come up with a variety of complex responses to this metaethical mess that they have on their hands. But the very fact that such complex responses are so varied should tell us something. Left to themselves, unbelievers would not know how to be truly good if their lives depended upon it. And their lives do depend upon it. That is why we preach and pray that they might turn from their repeated offenses against the essentially good, almighty God and toward His Son the Lord Jesus Christ through faith.
Jesus Christ lived the truly good life and died in the place of those who never could live it. Redemption from our sins is ours’ in Jesus Christ through faith in Him. The very standard of moral good became incarnate, lived the perfect life, died for those who could not, and was raised again just as we shall be raised if only we trust in Him.